TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – Imagination is visiting The Forst Inn by way of a wild-eyed romp.
“She Kills Monsters” leaps off the beaten path into a “Dungeons & Dragons”-like fantasy, along with a loosey-goosey approach to a story.
Youthfulness is at the steering wheel.
The staging and costuming are akin to entering a haunted house attraction with lots of ghoulies and ghosts, with swordplay and fake dying added.
A crazy-quilt of comedy is built into some serious matters of soul searching: Tilly has died young, while still a teenager. Now her guilt-ridden older sister, Agnes, aims to discover what her little sister was about through Tilly’s diary, which details adventures that Tilly wrote and drew.
In the mix are projected images, silhouetted action, multiple blackouts, bursts of swinging weaponry and splashes of music and color lighting.
Adventuresome concepts of theater are involving.
“She Kills Monsters” is a take on tabletop fantasy role-playing games and animated film – except that it’s live theater. Make-believe is everywhere.
The ideas of the heavy-duty concept premise and some of the jargon of the fantasy game world:
+ A living person can discover the character of a dead person whose traits, and being, live on through a game story that the dead person created.
+ The persons are the sisters whose home in 1995 is in Athens, Ohio. Tilly Evans (Grace Sergott) has been killed in a road crash. While sorting through Tilly’s worldly belongings, Tilly’s older sister, Agnes Evans (Charly Sparks), has discovered a game scenario that Tilly created. Agnes, through a “dungeon master,” Chuck (Blaine Rezach), becomes a character in Tilly’s fantasy scenario to discover things about Tilly, who she ignored in life.
+ Tilly’s character in the fantasy game kills monsters. Agnes fights monsters in a different sense – that she didn’t try to understand or know Tilly in life, and now monsters in her conscience haunt her.
+ Many of the characters have a glib, youthful, know-all wise-ness. With-it humor bubbles through the action.
+ Much differentness bubbles through the action. Tilly of the game is a somewhat invincible woman warrior. Her compatriots, Lilith Morningstar (Michelle Sheahan) and Kaliope Darkwalker (Gracie Kolb), are gifted with specialty warrior skills. Each is a threat to any foes/challengers that Tilly (and now Agnes) encounter as they venture to, perhaps, some sort of truth.
Agnes of the game is a learner, and thus she bungles through with some feeble help from the “guiding” Chuck. Agnes of life is a high school teacher with a boyfriend, Miles (Bailee B. Harper), who has avoided pressing the “Commit” button with Agnes. Amid all the fantasy and real challenges, playwright Qui Nguyen adds this twist: Tilly is gay, and so are her compatriots. Some of the violence in the fantasy game becomes about that. The play has strong vibes on the topic.
Some other differentness:
++ The bizarre costuming of the gaming world, from warrior woman/gladiator style to a glob of a gelatinous foe.
++ Characters materialize at will in the fantasy world, just like ones that pop up out of nowhere in video games – or that show up ringing your doorbell at Halloween.
++ In real life, Agnes comes to recognize a few people who Tilly fictionalized and included in her made-up game.
++ Combat abounds. The “Dungeons & Dragons”-like games are mostly about confrontation and deadly victories or defeats. So there’s swordplay and hand-to-hand battling galore, and the show has a fight choreographer. For this production, the front tables and chairs are removed to clear space for all the ghoulies and combat action.
++ Humor is weird style. Sample character: Steve (Sean Stalvey). In real life, Steve keeps getting blown off by others. In the fantasy world, he keeps turning up as gung-ho characters who keep getting killed. While the player doesn’t die a thousand deaths, he dies a lot along the way.
++ A key scene is a “dance battle,” so now key characters switch into a mod dance mode.
++ At the climax, Agnes faces off against a “monster” that consists of just about the entire cast portraying a creature.
Theater takes you to places you ordinarily couldn’t go. “She Kills Monsters” definitely does that. It is full-tilt imagination.
Director Ian Wisneski and his players let their imaginations fly, sweeping the audience into an absorbing neverland. Most of the acting is over the top with the players excellently getting into the spirit.
At Friday night’s opening performance, a show of hands revealed almost the entire audience was new to the place. At the end, that audience let loose a big rush of approval.
While the acting is often geared to other-worldly characters, Charly Sparks and Grace Sergott deliver meaningful dramatic material as Agnes rises to realizations and comes to terms with the often-rebuking Tilly.
The cast embraces the differentness that include Gavin J. Annette as the slacker master of the underworld – with multicolored horns – who has traded Tilly’s soul for a device and Ash Stokes and Megan Schauer as brilliantly costumed evil personas who seem to take forceful pleasure in being nasty/threatening.
There’s never a dull moment in “She Kills Monsters.” Bewildering and baffling, yes, but not dull in the full-on vigorous production.
Running time: Two hours, 12 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 9, 15-17, 22-23 and 2 p.m. April 24, with pre-show music: The Seavers at 6:15 p.m. except 12:45 p.m. April 24
Creative: Playwright – Qui Nguyen; director – Ian Wisneski; costumes and properties – Claran Violette; fight choreography – Greg Pagel; lighting, scenic treatment, sound – Michael Sheeks; stage manager – Gavin Glandt; fight captain – Bailee B. Harper; make-up consultant – Taylor Rahne; dance choreography – Jasmine Chrystine; sound design – Rachel Ziolkowski; sound design – Ian Wisneski; lighting consultants – Jeff LaFond, Phillip Jindra; photography – Tessa Komorowski Jindra
Orcus – Gavin J. Annette
Miles – Bailee B. Harper
Kaliope – Gracie Kolb
Ensemble – Mindi Pichla
Agnes – Charly Sparks
Chuck – Blaine Rezach
Vera/Evil Tina – Megan Schauer
Tilly – Grace Sergott
Lilith/Lilly – Michelle Sheahan
Steve – Sean Stalvey
Farrah/Evil Gabbi/The Narrator – Ash Stokes
NEXT: “Proof” by David Auburn, May 6-29.
THE VENUE: The historic Forst Inn is located at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit. The stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area. A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective overseen by Michael Sheeks, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in Manitowoc.